An excerpt from a novel of sex trafficking and justice in Southeast Asia, by K. R. Dial, advocate of the International Justice Mission.
Chapter Two: Troublemaker
A small showing, Sam thought as he entered Emory auditorium and grabbed a program from the large claw-foot table. He descended the long ramp down the aisle and sunk into the second row. Sam started the recorder rolling, placed it on the arm of his chair, and pulled out a notebook to continue his façade as the most studious guy in the room.
Only the first seven rows became dotted with people. The man on stage was looking at some notes and spoke briefly to the guy manning the technical booth in the back. He seemed relaxed for a lawyer and much younger than the other presenters—a young forty in a sport coat, not a suit. He was not particularly tall, but his shirt and trousers were particularly pressed. He cleared his throat once and spoke into the microphone in a friendly tone; the huge walnut podium shaded his body.
“We’re such a small group this morning, please come down and fill up the first few rows.”
This guy had optimism. Three minutes passed, and it became obvious that he wasn’t beginning until he had motivated forty-five law school seniors to physically move to the front of the auditorium. “Marvin Clayton of Global Justice,” the program clearly stated. This was Sam’s man.
“I won’t have you guys making all the concessions. I’ll step down from my place of perceived power and we’ll chat for the next hour about how my organization has rediscovered the divine purpose of lawyers.”
Marvin jumped down from the stage the way a man half his age might and pulled up a folding chair facing his tiny audience. This was getting interesting. The guy seemed charming, yet Mr. Stokes had said he was a troublemaker. Sam wondered if Global Justice paid Mr. Clayton as much as Madison and Stokes was going to pay Sam.
Sam was glad this would only last an hour; this Marvin Clayton was managing to turn an embarrassingly low turnout into an intimate pep talk.
Marvin pulled out a shabby spiral notebook from his coat pocket and began to read, even though most presenters knew reading was the quickest way to lose your audience.
“I read from the first book of law,” Marvin began. “ ‘So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.’ ”
Sam was expected to swallow poetry at eight in the morning.
“ ‘Justice is driven back.’ What do you suppose this means?” Marvin posed the question to any who were awake. He wanted participation right off the bat. He didn’t want to establish his brilliance first before allowing feedback.
These lectures were meant to get the students interested in a career path so they wouldn’t wander aimlessly with their law degrees like politicians and professors. Sam discerned that Marvin was up for a forum.
Normally, this activity would require more than four hours sleep, but Sam figured he would perform after watching Marvin’s unusual enthusiasm. And there was a cute girl to Sam’s right who had never been in a class with him; she had never seen his brain at work. He would give it his best shot without the sleep.
There was a large enough pause for him to begin. If he jumped in too soon, he was a show-off. But if he waited just long enough and spoke with a casual tone to his voice, he could command respect without jealousy. Now was the time to speak.
“To say justice is driven back is a reference to military retreat. Justice has lost the battle to injustice. And injustice always refers to an abuse of power.”
Marvin gave Sam a long smile. The approval rush was better than his coffee high. And Marvin had reason to pitch again. “Who would like to continue with this battle picture? Righteousness stands at a distance.”
No one spoke. The cute girl was fiddling with her phone, and suddenly she seemed common. Long pause. Sam would rescue this hour again. “Righteousness is a coward,” Sam declared.
Marvin said thank you to Sam with his eyes and directed his next question at him. “What is righteousness?” he asked.
“The standard of good.” Sam answered with no pause this time.
“Where do we get our standard of good, Mr. …”
“Samuel Toney.” He hesitated, not knowing if having his own name on the recording was cool.
“Sam, is it?”
“Sam, where does our standard of good originate?”
“Each society sets its own standard of good. What society was your poetry addressing?”
“All of mankind, actually. Let’s continue in my poetry.” Marvin glanced again at his red notebook. “ ‘Truth has stumbled in the streets. Honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes prey.’ ” He looked up and had only a few sets of eyes looking back at him. “Is Sam the only brave soul in the room? Who else can handle the truth?”
Claire rolled over and frowned. Just a day trip, she told herself as she stretched out to Marvin’s side of the bed. This would be a long day with the kids and, as Zoe would say, “No Daddy to cheer us up.” She slapped the bed twice, summoning Jack Jack, the tired Irish Setter, to her side, and analyzed her two choices: lie in bed and miss Marvin, or get up and check the blog for comments.
Choosing the latter, she slipped into her clothes from last night, twisted her hair into a mound on the top of her head, and headed downstairs. She had given Zoe and Connor permission to play until breakfast, and their tiny theatrical voices grew louder as she descended the staircase.
“We need one more cereal box,” Zoe said as she shook an empty package of Puffy Rice, sporting two rolls of masking tape like bangles.
“You tape this time,” said Connor, examining the fruit of his labor.
Zoe, four years old, and her little brother Connor, who was about a year behind her, had faithfully saved ten empty cereal boxes for three weeks. This morning, those ten boxes became a ski slope that began on the playroom bookshelf and plummeted into the wood floor. Many aluminum cars had already taken the plunge, and three plastic super heroes had met their snowy death off the side of the precipice. But Zoe’s blonde dolls had managed to ski with grace, plastic knives taped to their tiny feet.
“How clever!” Claire exclaimed, entering their world. “Is this why you wanted the boxes? Well done!”
Zoe and Connor eagerly began to describe every detail of the construction process as well as the feelings of every ski resort patron. Claire smiled and said, “Let me check my e-mail, then I’ll get us some breakfast.”
Entering the kitchen, Claire smiled as she saw the green tea Marvin had brewed for her. She poured herself a cup in her favorite thermal mug. Jack Jack must be fed next, but he was nowhere in sight; he’d probably gone back to sleep in the sunny spot on Connor’s bed. She fixed him fresh water and food, and then finally made it to the office.
In their small home office with a view of the playroom, Marvin and Claire had their two desks in the middle of the room, facing each other. Claire opened the laptop at her desk. A few clicks later she was reading the stats on the Global Justice blog: nearly two thousand hits.
Claire leaned in closer to the monitor. It must be a mistake. She checked her email, not quite sure what answers she would find. Sure enough, there was a message from someone named Veena of Worldwide BBC. Last night, their blogger had deemed Claire’s piece “a must read” and linked it on the BBC blog.
Claire took a long sip of tea and pondered. She couldn’t wait to read the comments. Breakfast came first, though.
The date on the yogurt was still good. She shut the fridge, summoned the kids to the table, and dined alone. Two thousand hits. Claire got more excited with every spoonful.
Zoe and Connor studied the remaining two cereal boxes, put them parallel to one another under the ski slope, and decided all it needed was a roof. With nothing to be found in the playroom, Zoe glanced into the office, then back to Claire’s direction. The sheen of light green silk—the color of tart apple bubblegum—caught her eye from the office. She walked to Claire’s desk, removed the ledger, and ran back to her project.
Zoe spread the ledger open, inverted it, balanced it between her two cereal boxes, and described her new lodge as “clever!”
Juanita Gomez was the most experienced and sharp witted of any woman on the administrative staff under Rich Madison. She arrived at Madison and Stokes early, stayed late, and was tight lipped about the firm’s dealings. Always rewarded for her discretion with more money and more secrets, Juanita had grown protective of Rich Madison’s reputation.
This morning, her daily web search for Madison and Stokes’ top three clients led her to the BBC World link to Claire’s blog. Two minutes later, she stood in her boss’s office with hard copy in hand, waiting for the smell of strong aftershave and a sausage biscuit to enter the office.
“Good morning,” Madison said as he entered the office, his mouth full. “I wondered why you weren’t at your desk. Nice skirt.”
“I have something you must read this morning,” Juanita said, putting the printout on his desk. She waited for him to take his seat and wipe the grease from his mouth.
Madison’s eyes scanned the paper. He looked up abruptly and said, “Thank you, Juanita.”
Before she could shut the door behind her, he said, “Tell Teddy’s girl that his Thailand trip must be moved up.”
His eyes still roaming the page, Madison fumbling for his cell phone and hit redial.
Rich Madison’s baby brother, Mickey, liked gambling more than work, beer more than food, and—the worst offence—his hometown Cubs more than the Braves. He sat wearing a Cubs hat and drinking cheap beer from a used McDonald’s coffee cup. Scratching his unshaven face, he belched last night’s frozen burrito, making room for his first drink of the day. He leaned up to check out his eyes in the rearview mirror, then decided against it—he already knew he looked like hell. Mickey Madison was neither as tall, smart, outgoing, nor as handsome as his older brother, Rich; the mirror was just a reminder.
Mickey stared toward Tracy Bigham’s front door. The assignment of snapping pictures of her latest personal trainer leaving after a sleepover was boring, but there was still some satisfaction in the job: Tracy was Rich’s ex-wife, and every picture Mickey snapped was sure to lead Rich into a rant of insecure jealousy. It was good to see Rich lose at something.
Mickey watched three young college students walk in front of his car and regretted, yet again, never finishing high school. He moved the car to get a better visual of Tracy’s front door and waited to confirm that the barrel-chested, ponytailed man had spent the night.
His brother’s number appeared on his phone. Mickey snapped it open. “Calling just to wish me good morning?” he said.
“Are you there?”
“Yes, Rich. I’m doing the stuff you’re too afraid to do.”
“No one else would hire you, Mickey.”
“No one else knows what I know.”
“Don’t pretend to be righteous. I have another job for you. I need you to switch locations right now.”
“The money will match the risk.”
The silence stretched following Marvin’s question. A woman shifted in her seat. She looked down at her paper and finally spoke from her notes, nearly whispering, “If truth stumbles and can’t be found, it means that no one is standing up for truth. If no one stands up for truth, righteousness has no choice but to stand at a distance. Righteousness is no coward. Righteousness waits for truth to be found.”
Righteousness is no coward. Sam had been contradicted. This was not good. Marvin took a long look at Sam’s verbal opponent and put a mental tally on her side. “You are familiar with this poem?” he asked.
“Yes.” She grinned.
“Very good,” he said, closing the red notebook as if the forum could end right then.
He finally began his spiel. “Global Justice is an organization of lawyers and investigators who have come together to tackle the most wretched and pervasive injustices in our world. We are in India demanding the release of child-bonded slaves; we are in Kenya defending prisoners held without trial; and we are in Thailand rescuing child prostitutes from brothels in Bangkok.”
The cute girl looked up from her palm and said with childlike enthusiasm, “I saw a report on you guys on 60 Minutes.”
“That’s right.” Marvin nodded. “It aired two weeks ago.”
Sam sat with his bruised pride and wondered how an American lawyer had any right to investigate crime in another country. Perhaps this was a military branch and the audience wouldn’t find out that this guy was recruiting for the US Army until the end of his hour. But Marvin looked a little too relaxed for the military, and he didn’t mention any American involvement. Sam made a mental note to review the international clients of Madison and Stokes.
“The abuse of power Sam mentioned is absolutely certain in all cases of injustice. Usually, the threat of physical violence sustains the oppression. In the cases of child-bonded slavery in India, a young person may spend his entire childhood making cigarettes for eighteen hours a day. Perhaps when the child was six years old his family was put in bonded slavery to pay off a fifty-dollar medical bill. Their moneylender beats them when they don’t meet their cigarette quota for the day. And with false record keeping and exponential interest payments, the child is now a slave.” Marvin paused, looking right at Sam.
Sam was listening. Really listening. Marvin took Sam to Thailand. A girl named Mai was being recruited from her village to work as a “waitress” in Bangkok to help feed her family. Actually, she was kidnapped and locked in a closet with no food, and then she was beaten, raped, and drugged until she submitted to the brothel owner. She served ten men a day; during festival season, she served twenty. And she was eleven years old. Sam shifted in his chair. Eleven years old. His niece Katie was only thirteen.
Sam shifted again, and Marvin lifted his red notebook. “ ‘Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors.’ ” He paused. “This was penned nearly three thousand years ago. But it describes much of the injustice going on today in the developing world. Our organization, Global Justice, trains ordinary lawyers and criminal investigators to infiltrate the darkest, most lawless areas of the world so that we may rescue the helpless and prosecute … .”
Sam heard Marvin talking, but all he could think about was a girl named Mai and the dull ache in his stomach. Only a disturbed freak would bed an eleven-year-old girl. And this happened to millions of girls in Southeast Asia. He could not think about that. Marvin with his horror stories—perhaps he was exaggerating.
Sam jumped in, “Where do you get your facts? Who tips you off in these countries?”
“Missionaries. We have networked with missionaries all around the world who live in the midst of these conditions. They tip us off, as you said.” Marvin raised his eyebrows, as if waiting for Sam’s next comment.
“Missionaries? Really? So, why does God allow child prostitution to occur?” Take that.
“Thank you, Sam. Thank you very much. Simply put, I don’t know why God allows injustice, but I am absolutely sure I was called to fight it.”
So, that was it? Sam stared at Marvin expecting more. But Marvin’s answer was complete. Sam was not satisfied. However, he was impressed with Marvin’s sense of purpose. Sam imagined his own purpose: He was born to receive the highest starting salary from Madison and Stokes. He was born to be the first professional in his family. Just as the ache in his stomach was easing, a video began to play calling Sam into Marvin’s bleak world of misery at the hands of corrupt police, savage brothel keepers, and enslaving moneylenders. Sam needed to leave.
The sights and sounds of Southeast Asia swirled larger than life far above Marvin’s head. There were no green and serene rice fields here, just cages for child prostitutes and dirt floors for crouching slave laborers. Sam looked around the dark auditorium, and saw that several people had shut their eyes. He wanted to do that too, but he couldn’t. He was too angry. Angry at Marvin for messing with his head. Angry at the victims on the screen for not running away. Angry at the monsters who exploit children. He clicked it off the recorder—it would only get the music from the video anyway, and he needed to get out of there.
Sam crouched down and slowly stepped away so as not to disturb the mostly sleeping audience. He moved toward the light of the lobby as the music pounded like tribal war drums. Why the change in tempo? He turned around.
All he saw were white words on a black screen: “over 1,000 children set free from child bonded slavery.”
He sat down in the dark back row and read. “over 500 child prostitutes rescued.”
The drums were louder, now; the end was coming. “for he who avenges blood remembers; he does not ignore the cry of the afflicted.”
Then, as abruptly as they had started, the drums stopped. The logo for Global Justice hung in the air.
Somehow this crusader had ticked off Madison and Stokes, and Sam was supposed to believe that the injustice of the world fit neatly into a well-produced twenty-minute recruitment video.
Sam had a tape to return.
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